Cases of Legionnaires' disease up 26 percent in state since 2017

(WXYZ) - A new warning tonight from Michigan's Health Department after a spike in cases of Legionnaires' disease in the state. Michigan's Health and Human Services is now working to alert health providers of the jump in order to protect the public. 

There has been a 26 percent jump in cases compared to a year ago. There are 135 confirmed cases of Legionnaire's disease across the state, and 70 of those were in the metro Detroit area. Health officials are saying this is just the start. 

Out of the 135 cases in the State of Michigan, 24 have been confirmed since the start of July, with another 13 cases pending, according to Michigan's Health and Human Services Department. 

It marks a 26 percent increase of the potentially deadly disease from this time in 2017. 

The health department is saying that the spike matches a national trend. Legionellosis, a form of Legionnaires' disease, is most common in the summer and early fall. When warming, stagnate water allows bacteria to grow more. 

"This is a serious problem, but it does happen and when not treated early it can cause people to die," said Dr. Partha Nandi, WXYZ Chief Health Editor. 

Sandy Sims knows the real dangers of Legionnaires' all too well. 

"My aunt Lena Newkirk became very ill," Sims said. "They didn't know what was wrong."

It was Legionnaires, and Sandy said it was traced back to a faulty room humidifier. 

"It was an awful suffering," she said. "It was an awful death. her extremities turned black and she basically became comatose."

Not everyone exposed to the contaminated water particles in the air will become infected. 

The health department says that those most at risk are:

  • over the age of 50
  • current or former smokers
  • those with chronic lung disease
  • and people with weakened immune systems

The most notable cases in our area are the three recent ones at Wayne State University, which were traced back to a cooling tower on campus. 

The health department says there is a higher risk if:

  • you've traveled recently with an overnight stay
  • stayed in a healthcare facility
  • or a place with recent plumbing repairs or maintenance work
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